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The NBA's best shot blockers

All right, everyone loves the blocked shot, almost as much as the slam dunk. There are several questions though to answer, including how important/valuable is a block, and which players are the NBA experts at this particular skill.

The first question we will be attacking shortly in a lengthy article that examines such things as how often a team gets a defensive rebound after a block, and what the effects are on ensuing possessions for the stuffed team -- do they stick to outside jumpers, does their efficiency go down, etc.

The issue of which players shine at shot-swatting is an easier one to tackle, at least until we wrap in the findings of the more serious work on estimating a block's true worth.

Please note the following stats include games played through January 1st, 2004 in the 03-04 regular season, and only include players except where noted with at least 500 minutes played.

1) Total Blocks
Heck, let's start with the obvious, which players have the most blocks period.
Rank
Player
Team
Blocks
1
 Wallace
DET
103
2
 Ratliff
ATL
101
3
 Kirilenko
UTA
90
4
 O'Neal
IND
85
5
 Duncan
SAS
78
This is not the best indicator to our minds since playing time is a big variable, as is the pace the team plays at, the overall defense, etc. Still, the usual suspects jump into the top spots, with Big Ben Wallace holding a slim edge over Theo Ratliff at this stage of the season.

2) Blocks per 48 Minutes
One way to make the previous evaluation a little bit fairer is to scale the total blocks to a "per 48 minutes of playing time" metric.
Rank
Player
Team
Blks/48
1
 Ratliff
ATL
4.9
2
 Gadzuric
MIL
4.6
3
 Booth
SEA
4.5
4
 Swift
MEM
4.3
5
 Camby
DEN
4.2
6
 Dalembert
PHI
4.0
7
 Wallace
DET
4.0
8
 Kirilenko
UTA
3.8
9
 Duncan
SAS
3.8
10
 O'Neal
IND
3.5
*
 Anderson
DEN
7.2
This measure mixes up the leaderbaord quite significantly, with lesser used players like Gadzuric, Booth, Swift, and Dalembert getting their due. Wallace drops to #7, while Ratliff assumes a healthy lead...or does he! By capping the minutes played at 500 we eliminated the most productive by far raw shot blocker with any kind of playing time, Chris Anderson of the Nuggets.

With only one of the top six rated players being able to average 30 minutes a game of playing time, this still seems a slightly suspect gauge.

3) Inside Shot, Block Percentage
Yes there are some players adept at timing the block on the jump shot, but most of the hand on ball action occurs in the paint, in fierce proximity to opposing players intent on getting to the rim. We could go with a stat showing what percentage of the total shots attempted against his team while on the floor he managed to redirect, but that penalizes guys on teams that give up lots of rainbows from outside.
Rank
Player
Team
Inside Blk%
1
 Ratliff
ATL
14.0%
2
 Dalembert
PHI
11.8%
3
 Gadzuric
MIL
11.5%
4
 Booth
SEA
11.1%
5
 Mutombo
NYK
10.6%
6
 Kirilenko
UTA
10.5%
7
 Swift
MEM
10.1%
8
 Wallace
DET
9.9%
9t
 O'Neal
IND
9.8%
9t
 Ming
HOU
9.8%
9t
 Duncan
SAS
9.8%
Ratliff again has daylight between himself and the rest of the league. The aforementioned Anderson of the Nuggets is at 15%, but with only about half the shots faced, and less time against the opposition starting players.

Dikembe Mutombo makes his first appearance in this article at the #5 ranking, while Kirilenko who spends more time than most of these guys guarding the perimeter, shows he is a force on the inside as well, a good one-two punch for Utah when Ostertag is also on the floor.

4) Deterrent Factor
You would think having an imposing figure in the paint, waiting for the opportunity to knock a less than full force inside shot into tomorrow, would perhaps give the other team's players second thoughts about getting too close to the basket. How often do opposing teams take inside shots with the top "defenders of the paint" on the floor?
Rank
Player
Team
Inside%
Ins.Blk%
1
 Mutombo
NYK
27.6%
10.6%
2
 Ming
HOU
28.4%
9.8%
3
 Divac
SAC
28.6%
4.7%
4
 Dampier
GSW
28.8%
5.5%
5
 Blount
BOS
28.8%
8.5%
6
 Thomas
NYK
29.1%
5.9%
7
 Cato
HOU
29.1%
8.7%
8
 O'Neal
LAL
29.6%
8.6%
9
 Dalembert
PHI
29.7%
11.8%
10
 Miller
SAC
30.2%
5.5%

If we look only at players in the top 50 in inside shot block percentage, the strongest deterrent to a team looking to shoot from close up might be a towering Mutombo staring back!

The Kings land two players in the top ten, which may suggest that while not quite of the same class as the very top shot blockers, Divac and Miller together are a pretty good argument in favor of shooting from outside.

5) Blocks per Shooting Foul Committed
Another way of looking at this, is which players control their aggressive defensive tendencies well, and can land "clean" blocks as opposed to hacking the player as much as the ball.
Rank
Player
Team
Blks
Fouls
Blk/F
1
 Garnett
MIN
76
33
2.30
2
 Kirilenko
UTA
90
40
2.25
3
 Wallace
DET
103
52
1.98
4
 Ratliff
ATL
101
51
1.98
5
 Duncan
SAS
78
40
1.95
6
 Gasol
MEM
50
32
1.56
7
 Brand
LAC
37
25
1.48
8
 O'Neal
LAL
66
45
1.47
9
 Marion
PHO
51
35
1.46
10
 Booth
SEA
53
37
1.43
This seems to be a nice filter to weed out the pure "leap at any opposing shooter" type defenders who may block some shots but do so at a cost.

Of course a counter argument could be made that you want an intimidator who not only knocks some shots aside but also will foul a player foolish enough to come inside hard on those occasions where the block is out of reach. In that case, a guy like Ostertag may be your man, with 57 blocks and 67 shooting fouls!

6) A comprehensive Shot Blocker rating
So we come to the mother of all "rejector" ratings...the overall shot blocker figure. Admittedly this is very much a work in progress with a fair amount of tweaking to come when we better understand the true value of a rejection -- we may end up adding in things like % of a guys blocks that are rebounded by his own team (thereby lowering the value of a shot sent into the seats for show stopping purposes), the overall defense with the player on court versus off court, the quality of the opposing players faced, and so on. For now, let's just call it a wag, and hey the season's not even half over anyway! We'll be ready for the year end awards banquet with a better number.

#
Player
Team
Blocks
Blk/48
Inside
Blk%
Blk/Foul
Opponent
Inside%
Blk Rtg
1
 Ratliff
ATL
101
4.9
14.0%
1.98
32.4%
24.7
2
 Kirilenko
UTA
90
3.8
10.5%
2.25
33.3%
19.8
3
 Duncan
SAS
78
3.8
9.8%
1.95
32.4%
19.0
4
 Mutombo
NYK
53
3.1
10.6%
1.29
27.6%
18.8
5
 Wallace
DET
103
4.0
9.9%
1.98
35.6%
18.8
6
 Garnett
MIN
76
3.1
8.3%
2.30
30.6%
17.7
7
 O'Neal
LAL
66
3.4
8.6%
1.47
29.6%
17.5
8
 O'Neal
IND
85
3.5
9.8%
1.33
34.3%
17.5
9
 Ming
HOU
60
2.8
9.8%
1.00
28.4%
17.5
10
 Cato
HOU
57
3.1
8.7%
1.08
29.1%
16.5

We'll give the early season top honors to Theo Ratliff, but we expect things to tighten up considerably when we incorporate the "new new" factors after our investigation into what a block is really worth.


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